I have never met her in person, but I consider Rebecca Sachiko Burton a friend. She used to comment often on this blog, and we’re Facebook pals. I very rarely check Facebook, but was on there tonight when I saw that she had posted this. I was first of all shocked that something like this had happened to someone I know. More than that, I was staggered by the moral courage she showed in making it public. I asked her for permission to post it here, and she agreed. Rebecca is a Mormon, a fact that, as you will see, is relevant to her story:
I wouldn’t blame you for not reading this, and it’s honestly terrifying the breath out of me to write it.
I won’t tell you every one, and I won’t tell you in detail. Just a few big ones.
My biggest started with [a family member] when I was 7. It was serious and injurious, and began a relationship where, as my recovery literature puts it, “sex is the most important sign of love”, especially when the alternative is physical abuse. It became a lingering relationship characterized by control–either through generosity and charm, or anger and abuse, but always, always, his need to own my life. To follow me around, to shame me or mock me, to need me to be his confidante, to rage at me privately. When he told me a couple years ago that I should thank him, because he considered himself my protector, and that I was the real seducer/abuser, I had to stop talking to him or seeing him. But it’s been hard, because many people in my circle were befriended by him, and experience shows that I won’t be believed, but he will.
As a teen, when I approached a bishop about the abuse, this very nice man, who was the father of many beloved daughters, took me through the repentance process–because being forced to perform sexual acts as a seven-year-old somehow made me culpable. This very nice bishop was the unwitting source of secondary trauma.
When I was 17, my boss–a married man in his 30’s–pursued me, talking a lot about “writers like us”, giving me gifts, and reminding me that I was now obligated to him. He gave me a galley copy of Game of Thrones, and now anything by George R.R.Martin turns my stomach.
Then an older boyfriend, when I was in high school, who raped, and later hit me. Because my [family member] still blamed me for seducing him as a 7yo, I fully believed I was irredeemable. I believed I had turned a perfectly nice boyfriend into a monster; that I was capable of turning any man into a monster. That just by getting too close for too long, I would pollute anyone around me.
People who’ve been abused or assaulted tend to have poor boundaries–you can google “shark cage theory” for more info on this–and it means that if a teacher, or church neighbor, or employer was going to pick one person to touch inappropriately, to stand to close to, to give gifts to, to pursue, to abuse, it is often someone who has already been assaulted, because they’re missing crucial boundaries that other people have.
I tried to throw myself into church, where the Young Women’s lessons seemed either not to apply to me, because they seemed to have been written for some bright-eyed virgin, or they applied perfectly to me, where I learned that I was chewed gum, a licked cupcake, a rotten apple. Every new modesty lesson emphasized that I was in charge of men’s lust, and that I had already failed to keep men pure by the time I was 8 years old.
Each worthiness interview through my 20’s and 30’s started with an acknowledgement that they knew I had gotten married as a pregnant teenager, who was “unworthy”. When my baby son died, the bishop immediately brought up my questionable worthiness, and how that might affect my being able to see him again. In my annual worthiness interviews, maybe because I was marked as dirty or lesser, I was asked if I was wearing my garments enough, if I was wearing them properly, which activities I took them off for. I had to do this while sitting in a small chair on the other side of a large desk, in an office with a closed door, with a church leader with a portrait of the Savior behind him. This well-dressed man that I didn’t know, but who lived in my neighborhood, whose kids knew my kids, to whom I was obligated to somehow please with the worthiness of my body and the correctness of my underwear….the surprising thing is that the debilitating church panic attacks didn’t begin sooner. I knew, from lots of personal experience, that suits meant nothing, that being married stopped no one, and a closed door was the prelude into someone else getting to do whatever they liked.
I’m trying to think of the best way to say this, and I can’t come up with a soft way, so I’m going to give it bluntly: there are many more like me. There are many more who are watching and listening when something about abuse or assault comes up in the news and we see which men ask, “Well, what was she wearing?” Which ones say, “You’re making a big deal out of nothing,” or “you’re oversensitive”.
We remember which ones will use their voice to tell women to be more modest, to be more pleasing, to tell them that they are obligated to subject themselves or their children to being alone with men they don’t really know or feel safe with, because that’s what’s socially expected, or that’s what good church women do. We see which ones believe the abused, and help them; and which ones look the other way when people are made to feel small, or afraid, or helpless; or who pretend nothing happened, or who kindly victim-blame, echoing the same things the demons inside us already shout, every day.
Like a friend of mine says: This isn’t about blame. It’s about a frighteningly large group of human beings saying, “We have been hurt. We have been made afraid. Please see us. Please believe us.” The world is full of incredible men who stand against harassment and abuse. It is also full of good men who do not see that there is a battle in need of fighting. This can be seen as a call to arms, or a call to discomfort. I think the former is more productive.
And, my sisters–I see you. I believe you. I have your back. You are of infinite worth.
Also–I don’t know if this is relevant–but I went to a recovery retreat last Easter. They asked, “How many of you women here have been blamed by a church leader for a husband’s addiction or for abuse by another?” Every hand went up.
Every hand went up. My God.
Rebecca Sachiko Burton, I salute you.
If you readers want to add your own #MeToo stories to this thread, please do. Do not feel that you have to identify yourself by name. Please be aware, though, that if you have posted here before under your own name, I will be able to see who you are. Of course I would never reveal your identity, but for the sake of your own privacy, I just want you to know that this information is displayed to me as the administrator of this blog. If that troubles you, then please don’t post.
UPDATE: I slightly edited this post to make two people Rebecca accuses of abuse less identifiable. This should not be taken as me disbelieving her.